I’d rather spend a week in Solitary Confinement
Director: Tyler Perry
Notable Cast: Tyler Perry (3x), Derek Luke, Keshia Knight Pulliam, David Mann, Tamela J. Mann, Vanessa Ferlito, Viola Davis
A self-made success story, Tyler Perry has written plays, directed films and owns a production studio. He’s also a strong salesman, having attracted Cicely Tyson, Angela Bassett, and Kathy Bates to various features, all of them projects specifically geared towards his core audience: churchgoing African Americans. While crossover appeal exists, he’s got a long way to go to be added to the conversation with the likes of Will Smith or Oprah.
Considering these tough economic times, where movie studios might be the next ones asking to be bailed out, it only makes sense that Perry retreat to his closet and pull out his favorite wig and hosiery to play his popular Mabel “Madea” Simmons character once again. Perry has made films without the smart-mouthed Madea, but they haven’t done nearly as well. So if it takes a black man in drag to guarantee box-office success, so be it.
In his latest film, Madea Goes to Jail, Perry opens on a high-speed pursuit involving Madea, which ultimately lands the loud sassymouth in court, followed by a jail sentence after her anger management session with Dr. Phil (really?) proved ineffective. Madea’s comeuppance may be the title of the feature presentation, but she’s merely a supporting star in a story about a junkie prostitute named Candace (Keshia Knight Pulliam – Rudy Huxtable for those that watched The Cosby Show).
Candace has a history that involves Joshua (Derek Luke), a childhood friend that was partly responsible for her street-walking life, who is now an up-and-coming Assistant D.A. After a serendipitous encounter in the courtroom brings them together, Joshua feels obligated to help her – like tending to a wounded bird that’s fallen from its nest. Joshua’s attention gets under the skin of his fiancée (Ion Overman), another A.D.A., who uses underhanded legal tactics to separate the two in a “nuthin’ comes between me my man” squabble.
This latest Tyler Perry production is again unbalanced when it comes to mixing comedy with drama, the tone never definitive. You have Madea and her crazy antics occupying the space between scenes involving situations about drug addiction, sex abuse, and sex-for-work ultimatums. It’s a melodrama where actions are irrational. While Madea’s behavior spurs chuckles, the drama falters beyond compare.
For one scene Derek Luke pours his heart out in blubbering fashion, tears streaming from his eyes. It’s so badly played out that it makes Robert Downey, Jr.’s waterworks in Tropic Thunder look like sure-fire Oscar bait. Luke blubbers over his painful realization at what he didn’t do for Candace back when they were younger. Even before he can compose himself Perry is already on the next scene – a comedy bit involving Madea making a fool of herself in a court of law.
Like the rest of Perry’s films, Madea Goes to Jail follows a particular story template that uses scriptures from the Bible to shed light on areas of personal responsibility; includes characters with strange motivations that are inserted to spur the story along; and you can’t leave out the scorned lover/infidelity story arc.
After seven films (six directed by Perry) you’d think he would have grown as a filmmaker. But since he writes, produces and directs all his own material he doesn’t have to answer to anybody. Perry doesn’t have superiors that question screenplays that are typified by thin, simple characters that are rarely given new avenues in which to explore, or include superfluous sub-plots that should have been nixed early into the scriptwriting process.
It would be nice to see Perry challenge himself and make a feature that wasn’t all about expanding his studio empire. Madea Goes to Jail is a lay-up picture that will probably appeal to his niche fans, but won’t gain him any new ones.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):
Tags: Kathy Bates, oprah, Tyler Perry, Will Smith